What our Response to world news teaches us about Trauma Recovery
Updated: Apr 26
We live in a fast-paced, imperfect 'brut-iful' world that dishes up unexpected behavior from it's headlined inhabitants with fervor. And it’s emotionally upsetting to watch inappropriate behavior in others, whether it's in person, in a movie or in the news. Why? Because it can really stir up our own still-resolving trauma.
If our previous survival mechanism was to shut down, fawn or freeze....our healing self is learning to UPshift our emotional response, have a voice and stand up for ourselves or others - something many of us couldn't do earlier in our lives. So we often respond this way to upsetting news and cheer for those who join us in finally finding a voice.
And if our previous survival mechanism was to fight, lash out or over-perform... our healing self is learning to DOWNshift our emotional response, to pause, give ourselves time to think more comprehensively - something many of us couldn't do earlier in our lives either. So we often respond this way to upsetting news and support those who join us in finally being able to pause, think clearly and manage our once over-adrenalized state.
So people with still-resolving past trauma or past boundary violation can respond in either way, when unexpected, upsetting behavior shows up in the news. And both responses are a normal part of the healing process as long as we recognize it as such, and aim to eventually land in the middle.
So if something upsets you and you couldn't do it earlier in your life, stand up. Have a voice. Allow yourself to feel MORE intense emotion. Just do it while also thinking critically, comprehensively and flexibly.
Or if something upsets you and you couldn't do it earlier in your life, slow down. Say less. Allow yourself to feel LESS intense emotion while thinking more critically, comprehensively and flexibly. Just do it while remaining emotionally empathetic.
Emotionally, we're all working towards the same destination - just from different starting places.
When we first begin our healing, we're eager to rip free of the bonds of our brain’s conditioned past. So our natural human tendency is to ‘swing wide’ so to speak, go to the complete opposite 'end zone' of what we were previously doing. I mean... it makes sense because this strategy is initially effective. Any big change we want to last, takes a lot of initial effort. And if our previous behavior was extremely unhealthy, then we may need to do the complete opposite and stop something 'cold turkey'. So in our understandable eagerness to get on with our new lives, we often find ourselves fervently going to the extreme opposite in thought, behavior and emotional expression. But can you imagine if we all stopped there?
We’d all just be swapping roles and behaviors. And our relationships overall…. really wouldn’t change. We, as individuals, may feel an immediate relief and motivation from that initial explosive counter-movement towards the opposite end of our emotional experience. But the overall dynamic between people wouldn’t change. We would just be switching which end of the emotional 'field' we were playing from.
In other words, without eventual moderation, the former emotionally-over-expressive would instead escape into their intellect, now emotionally over-distancing themselves in their relationships.
And without eventual moderation, the former emotionally-under-expressive would instead escape into their 'passion', now emotionally over-activating themselves in their relationships and pushing others away.
Both examples, if we stayed in their extreme opposites, would simply be swapping one coping mechanism for another, and swapping one still-unrefined emotional state for another. Like going from anorexia to obesity ( or the reverse ) in an attempt to eat healthier, neither emotional extreme is where we want to remain long-term. That is, if we want to see healthy change in our relationships.
So its worth being mindful of where we’re at in the healing process when we respond to something upsetting. The end-goal of recovery isn't in the extreme opposite of our wounded emotional-activation state. It's in that middle-zone of varied, differentiated and moderated emotional experience, coupled with… flexible, comprehensive and critical thinking.
This is Whole-Brain Intelligence at its best and where the magic of real ‘relating’ happens!
So keep at it and keep up the great work.
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